Just four teams left… four clubs with dreams of glory. After slogging their guts out all summer in pre-season, playing trials and 24 regular-season games and now a final or two, it comes down to 80 minutes (perhaps a few more if we get golden point) to get into ‘the big show’. And it’s fitting we’ve been left with the top four as per Round 26 rankings – even if it took a controversy or two to get there!
We have the minor premiers, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs; a side Des Hasler has immediately put his polish on. What a story it would be if Des could go back to back with different clubs! But even more importantly, it would be a resounding affirmation for the club given their hard-line stance and culture change that ushered back a ‘family feel’ to the blue and whites.
Next up we have the Melbourne Storm. The player unit keep saying any form of redemption after being stripped of titles in 2007 and 2009 is not on their minds – but of course that’s total rubbish. This team is desperate to return their name to the top of the pile in the record books.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs are a game away from a grand final. Last week was the first final they’d won since 1987! Love ’em or hate ’em it’s a feel-good yarn to have the old ‘pride of the league’ back in the top echelon of teams. They’d go into the big one as huge sentimental favourites if they got there looking for premiership number 21 after spending 41 years in exile.
And last but not least the defending premiers Manly. With a new coach they’ve barely missed a beat and have the chance to add what would be a third premiership in five years… incredible stuff. Who’s to say it might not have been more without the Storm salary cap rorts.
So who is going to hoist the trophy? We all have our theories. But I thought I’d dissect the stats of the past five premiers (yes I know this includes two sides stripped of a title) to see how the 2012 four stack up. Will it give us an insight into who will be wearing premiership rings?
In the past five seasons the grand final-winning side has averaged at least 21.9 points a match when it comes to points scored. Melbourne (24.1), Canterbury (23.4) and South Sydney (23.2) all average more than that mark this year.
But Manly fans might be a little worried to know their side averages just 20.3 points. Will this be a telling stat?
The 2008 premiership-winning Manly side averaged as high as 28 – but more importantly when looking across different seasons is where they were ranked. Different seasons may feature differences in attack.
Stats show the past five winners were never ranked lower than fifth in average points scored. Again the Storm (2nd), Bulldogs (3rd) and Rabbitohs (3rd) are inside the mark while the Sea Eagles (8th) are not.
The mark for average metres gained for grand final winners in the past five seasons has been at least 1337.9. If you average the five winners over that time period you get 1387.9 metres. None of the five sides ranked worse than seventh (two of them ranked first, another second). In 2012, all four sides beat the low mark of 1337.9, led by the Storm (1388.9), Rabbitohs (1380.7), Bulldogs (1369.2) then Sea Eagles (1359.7).
But as you can see, only the Storm beat the five-year average. In terms of rankings this year the Storm is fifth, Rabbitohs are sixth, Bulldogs seventh and Sea Eagles eighth. This leaves the Sea Eagles on the outer again.
In the past five seasons the grand final-winning team has been among the best four sides in the competition when it comes to average line-breaks. This is great news for Rabbitohs fans as the bunnies lead the NRL with an average 5.2 a match.
The Storm are also sitting pretty with their second-ranked 4.9 a match; however it’s not such good news for the two other clubs. Despite the likes of Ben Barba and Josh Morris in the line-up the Bulldogs rank sixth in the NRL with 4.5. And then the Sea Eagles are worse off, ‘languishing’ in eighth spot with an average 4.3.
The low mark for average tackle-breaks in the past five seasons is an average 34.3 a match. A quick glance at the 2012 stats shows us the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs barely get above the mark at 34.9 and 34.5 respectively, while the Sea Eagles are just below the mark at 34.1 despite having ‘human wrecking ball’ Tony Williams in their ranks.
Here is a stat where the Storm struggle: they average just 30.8 tackle-breaks a match, ranking them 13th in the NRL. Will this somehow count them out?
It seems that over the past five years, in order to win on Grand Final day teams needed to be among the five best units when it came to limiting errors. While all four of this year’s sides are well below the 12.2 errors the Storm averaged in 2007 when they won, they’re not all inside the top five this season.
The Rabbitohs (9.7) can breathe easy as they rank second best in the NRL. And the Storm isn’t too far behind, ranked third best at 10.1 a game. However, the Bulldogs find themselves on the bubble in fifth place on the season rankings (10.5) but the Sea Eagles are once again on the outside looking in, ranked seventh (10.6).
This is perhaps the most telling stat when it comes to winners in the past five grand finals. All five premiers ranked in the top two for the year when it came to average points conceded and the worst mark was 14.3 points.
Defence hasn’t been as stout this season but with the top two ranking in mind we could be looking at a Storm v Bulldogs grand final. The Melbourne boys lead the NRL with an average 14.7 points conceded, fractionally ahead of the Bulldogs at 15.2 a match. While the Sea Eagles are ranked third, they have let in 16.6 and the Rabbitohs are back in fifth at 18.4. Defence wins the big games…
The most average metres conceded by a winning team in the past five seasons are 1324 metres a match. The winning teams have ranked anywhere from first to eighth in the NRL in the statistic. Not one of this year’s top four sides is inside the 1324-metres mark (in fact to date only the Canberra Raiders have managed it).
But the Storm (1329.4) are close and could move inside the mark with a good performance. They are currently ranked third.
The Sea Eagles are sixth (1343.3) the Rabbitohs seventh (1347.2) but the Bulldogs are 11th at 1360.6.
When it comes to line-breaks conceded the best team over the past five years has ranked inside the top four at year-end and 3.6 a game has been the worst mark.
The Bulldogs can notch up a win here, as they lead the NRL with just 3.3 a match while the Sea Eagles also sit inside the ‘money zone’ with 3.6 ranking them third in the league.
The Storm are found in fifth spot (3.8) and the Rabbitohs further down in 7th at 4.2.
Turn away Sea Eagles fans! Your side is the only one of the remaining four that doesn’t cut it in the missed tackle stakes.
The high mark of the past five years was an average 33.7 missed tackles a match and a seventh spot in the rankings. The other four seasons you needed to be inside the top three in the NRL to make the grade.
The Bulldogs (27.6), Rabbitohs (27.6) and Storm (28.1) are one, two, three in the NRL this year when it comes to average fewest missed tackles – but you have to scroll all the way down to 12th to find the defending premiers at 34.6 a game.
So what does all this mean? Well, I’m prepared to put my neck on the line and suggest Manly cannot go back to back in 2012. The Storm rank above them in most categories and should prove too strong on Friday night.
However, the other game is harder to pick: the Rabbitohs have the attacking edge but the Bulldogs are defensively much stronger. I’ll turn off the sentimental valve of the heart and lean to the Bulldogs, as defence wins big games.
Statistically though it seems Melbourne just might go on and win it all…
Disagree with me? Think I’m on the money? Feel free to tell me on twitter @NRLStatsInsider